Category Archives: Spiritual Exercises

Exercise 49: Observing the Breath

Background

If you wanted to divide up all the spiritual exercises, all the contemplations, all the ways of approaching of mindfulness that have ever been, you could find one convenient dividing line around what they do with the breath.  

Many practices begin by asking us to take charge of the breath. Generally speaking, these practices encourage us to slow down our breathing.  There are lots of reasons that this is a good idea.

As discussed above, it may not be the most accurate picture of the way things work though.

The other category of practices asks us to simply observe the breath.  

The act of simply tuning into the breath can be so much more difficult than it sounds.  It is easy to overthink the direction, “Tune into your breath without changing it.” Generally speaking, holding this instruction to tightly will lead to struggles.  In trying to be too literal we tend to unleash a series of questions and doubts.

As with so many things, entering these exercises in a light-hearted manner is wise.  If we accept that we will not be perfect at it, we will be able to observe our breath much more effectively.

Exercise 17: Observing the breath

 

  1. Create a safe, quiet space.
  2. Sit in a comfortable, upright manner if you are able.
  3. Tune in to your breath.  Do your best to accept it without changing it.
  4. Note whether you are using the mouth, nose, or both.
  5. Become aware of specifically where you feel the breath entering the nose or mouth.  How does it feel there? What is the temperature?
  6. Note the temperature as it comes in.  
  7. Extend this awareness of the feeling and temperature as the breath leaves you.
  8. Where does the breath end in your body?  Does your abdomen move? Your chest?
  9. When you are ready, increasingly bring yourself into this particular breath.  The one you feel right now. This breath, now is the only breath you can ever change.  It is wholly unique among all the breaths you will ever feel. Greet each breath. Find its uniqueness. 
  10.  Welcome the special breaths that follow in the same way.  Sit in this awareness for most of the time you have devoted to your practice today.  
  11. When you are ready, return to your everyday life.  But know that you can welcome each breath throughout your day.

 

 

Exercise 48: More Breathing Toward Oneness

Background: You might find this to be most effective after exercise 47.  In some ways, it is a follow-up to that exercise.

Our every day assumption is that our consciousness (ego, mind) is in control of things like our breathing.  The main evidence for this assumption is rooted in the idea that when I think “I am going to breathe slowly now.”  I do, in fact, start to breathe slowly.

However, it is worth noticing a few things about this assumption.  The first is that (thankfully) when we stop thinking about our breathing, we continue to breathe.  The second is that if we asked for an account of how we do things like change our breath or move an arm, we couldn’t give much more of an explanation than “well, I think about it, then it happens.”

There are some aspects of neuroscience that are beginning to endorse the idea that our consciousness tells a story about what is going on and our body, rather than causing those changes to take place.  In other words, there are good reasons to suppose that when we begin to breathe slowly, we think “I am going to breathe slowly now.” and assume our thought caused the action, when in fact, the opposite is true.

The Exercise

  1.  Find a relaxed position.  Generally speaking, this will be a seated position with feet flat on the floor and spine as straight as is comfortable.
  2. Notice your breath.  Allow yourself to be aware of it with out seeking to change it.
  3. Feel the inhale: notice where the breath comes in on the nostrils or mouth.  Observe the flow of air down the throat and into the belly.
  4. Feel the exhale.  Notice the difference in the temperature and moisture of the air as it leaves the body.
  5. Continue this for at least three more breaths.  Continue longer if that feels right.
  6. As you continue to observe this process, recall that a story goes that God reached down and breathed into a handfull of Earth.  After that breath, there was Adam.
  7. Observe the exhale.
  8. Continue this for two more breaths: God-in-the-universe is breathing you.
  9. Open your heart and mind to the awareness that other people and animals in your area (perhaps your family in other bedrooms, or the other occupants of the building you are in) are breathing, too; God-in-the-universe is breathing them.
  10. As you complete a second and third breathe with this awareness, continue to observe this breath being breathed in you.
  11. Open your mind and heart to the plants and even microscopic organisms all around you.  Some living things inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.  Others do the reverse.  See the world breathing in all these creatures.
  12. Sit in this flow and connection for as long as you would like.  
  13. Can you widen this network of connections?  Can you make it geographically larger?  Can you expand the nature of the interconnections.
  14. When you are ready, return to your every day world.  Hold on to the connections between the rest of the world that were deepened here.

 

You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

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Exercise 47: Oneness Within a Web of Living Beings

Background:  Thinkers such as Ken Wilber have observed that it is somewhat arbitrary, the ways that we put importance on a single individual.  We are made of millions of cells.  The cells are arranged in tissues, the tissues are are arranged in organs.  The organs are arranged in organ systems.  The organ systems are arranged in organisms.  The organisms are arranged in communities.  The communities are arranged in ecosystems.  All the ecosystems, when taken together, form the biosphere.

We have consciousness of ourselves as individuals, of course.  But this seems like a small reason to put so much of our attention to one middle-level of this arrangement.  There is something to be said for the idea that the consciousness we think is running the show is in fact just giving us a report of the things that are already happening.

If you can do the following practice in the presence of a a plant, or better yet a tree, that is a definite plus.

The Practice

1.  Find a comfortable position.  Release your worries and expectations.  Place your phone on silent mode.

2.  Breathe in, through the nose if you can.

3.  Breathe out, through the mouth.

4.  Try to breathe in more deeply.  Place your hand on your abdomen and feel it move.

5.  Exhale again.  

6.  Take one last inhale, before we move in to the next step.  Can you make it your deepest?

7.  Fully exhale.

8.  Spend a moment considering a plant or tree.  Behold and love it.  Consider the individuality of this one specific plant.  See it’s leaves and branches.  Imagine the roots of the thing.  Allow your thoughts or eyes to really linger on this friend.

9.  With your next inhale, breathe in.  Recognize that some of the very air you breathed might have been made from that plant.

10.  With your next exhale, breathe the air out knowing this is what the plant will need.  It will inhale the carbon dioxide of your breath.

11.  Take two more deep breaths, connecting with the plant in this relationship of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

12.  When you are ready, try to erase the boundaries between yourself and the plant.  Can you imagine a level upon which you and the plant are not two seperate individuals but one common entity?  Experience a sense of oneness with the tree or plant.  It is giving you what you need.  You are giving it what it needs.

13.  Linger on this experience for as long as you need or want to.

14.  Widen this circle in your mind.  See yourself and this tree as a part of all plant-animals and animals within your area.  (perhaps this area is about the size of a city block.)  First, sit with the idea that they are in a perfect, reciprocal cycle of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

15.  The gasses, in a way, are just a metaphor for so much more.  Sit in your place in this system.   Make it larger, in your mind, if you wish.  First, broaden the meaning of relationship, knowing (but don’t bother listing) that we get more than just oxygen.  Then, broaden the size of the network.

16.  When you have made this network as broad, and deep as your mind will allow, sit with it.  In some important sense, all the living creatures in your mind, all the plants and the animals, they are one.

16.  If you would like, consider whether God is present within the animals or plants in this relationship.  Is God above them?  Or the movement of the matter and energy between them?  Both?  Neither?

17.  Hold this web of connection: you, other animals, plants, trees, God in your mind.  Take as long as you would like to sit as one part of this network of relationships.

18.  When you are ready, return in your mind to just you and the plant you begin with.  Consider the differences between yourself and the plant.  Try and hold to the idea that you are still one.  But the plant has specialties.  So do you.  The organism that is formed between the two of you is greater than the sum of your parts.  Think about the ways that you and the plant are such a good pair.

19.  When you are ready to dismiss this practice, thank the plant and move into your day, knowing that you can bring your mind back to your place in this tremendous network of beings.

 

 

 

Exercise 46: Back at the Apophatic

Background: Many people find apophatic meditation difficult but rewarding.

Once the basics are under control, it is worth coordinating the breath with this practice.  With the affirmation (‘God is Love’) we might inhale as a way to embrace this truth.  With the negation, we might exhale (‘God is not love’) as a form of rejecting the limitedness of the affirmation.

When we negate the negation (‘God is not not love)  we can try to coordinate this so it equally positioned with the inhale and the exhale of the next breath.  A goal (one not worth fussing much over) is to have the first ‘not’ concluded with the inhale.

The subject (God) and the objects (Love, etc.)  are here mostly as place holders.  If there is a subject or object that resonates more deeply with you, by all means, run with these.   It is highly reccomended that whatever objects you are using, you decide these in advance.

The Exercise

  1.  Create a position which is both comfortable and alert.
  2. Release your responsibilities and expectations.
  3. Breathe deeply.
  4. With your next inhale, think “God is Love.”
  5. With your next exhale, think “God is not Love.”
  6. Part way through your next inhale, begin with “God is not”
  7. Moving into the exhale, complete the thought “not love.”
  8. With your next inhale, think “God is in control.”
  9. With your next exhale, think “God is not in control.”
  10. Part way through your next inhale, begin with “God is not”
  11. Moving into the exhale, complete the thought “not in control.”
  12. With your next inhale, think “God is Jesus.”
  13. With your next exhale, think “God is not Jesus.”
  14. Part way through your next inhale, begin with “God is not”
  15. Moving into the exhale, complete the thought “not Jesus.”
  16. When you are ready, release this practice and sit in wordless union.

You can help in turning The Faith-ing Project into a fully functioning community.  You can do this in several ways:

  • Share your thoughts, feelings, and criticism below in the comments.
  • email otherjeffcampbell7@gmail.com to share something directly with the Project’s Director, to join our next email campaign, or to ask to be placed on the mailing list.
  • Access exclusive content and help The Faithing Project share spiritual practices with a world in desperate need.  Become a  Patron.
  • follow @faithingproject on twitter.

Exercise 45: The Eye through which I see God…

Background: Mystic Meister Eckhart said, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one love.”  This sentence is, to me, nearly as amazing as it is confusing.  This exercise is an attempt to grapple with this strange, wonderful idea.

The Exercise

  1.  Breathe deeply.
  2. Turn your inner eye to God.  See God watching you.
  3. Think about who God is, see God as best you can through your mind’s eye.
  4. When you are ready, consider the idea that God is watching all things.  God is watching you watch God.
  5. As best you can, consider the idea that God sees you fully.  God sees you with infared and ultraviolet vision; God sees all the things you have ever done.  God sees you down to the smallest subatomic particle.  God sees all the things you have ever been.  God sees your body, mind, and soul.  God sees the original divine spark which made human kind.
  6. Know that As God sees you, in every possible way, God sees your potential.  God knows the depths of your passion and love.  God sees and pronounces you as so good.
  7. Sit with God’s loving view on you for a bit.  
  8. Take three deep breaths.
  9. Combine the views, as best you can.  God looking down on you is you looking up at God.  Your eyes are God’s eyes.  God’s eyes are yours.  You are God.  God is you.

Exercise 44: An alternative Examen

Background: This approach to the examen was inspired by Phileena Heuertz’ close focus on Ignatius’ original words in her excellent ‘Mindful Silence.’  There is an interesting balance in this exercise of holding and releasing our emotions.

The Exercise:

  1. Inhale God’s presence deeply.  Exhale the stress of the day. Repeat this process 3 times if need be.
  2. Do your best to find some gratitude.  If it is not within you, it can be found in God’s presence which you are inhaling.
  3. Recall your day.  You might do this by thinking backwards, beginning with 24 hours ago and gradually moving forward.   See the whole of this time through that lens of thanksgiving. Become aware of those positives which were not expected.
  4. While still holding this gratitude, become aware of the emotions that you had through the day, and the emotions you hold now, as you review these memories.  Do your best to accept them for what they are. No judggement, submission, or resistance is necessary here.
  5. Choose one experience of the day.  Pray through this experience. Be aware of whatever your reactions to this experience are.  Ask God to lead you this experience and all of your reactions to it.
  6. Stay with this experience until you find peace about it.  If you have given the time you have for this and still feel unresolved, make a plan to return to this place soon.  
  7. Give thanks for God’s presence in your day.

 

Exercise 43

Background:  The truth?  I resisted this one for a while.  One minor problem was that it most naturally lead itself to just a few seconds, and I am more interested in practices which lend themselves to twenty minutes or half an hour.  But the bigger problem was that it seemed…  kind of cute and precious.  If spiritual practices had a personality, this one would have seemed very self-satisfied to me.

Then?  Then I tried it anyway.  And I quite like it.

I have provided several different forms of this exercise.  The first is the most common.  This takes a matter of seconds.  Perhaps you will find it useful to use it as a breath prayer as you go about your day.  The latter forms are ones which might be more reasonably used through an exercise.

Exercise 43A:

1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.

2.  Breathe.

3.  Think– or say– “Be still, and know that I am God.”

4.  Breathe.

5.  Think– or say– “Be still and know that I am.”

6.  Breathe.

7.  Think– or say– “Be still and know”

8.  Breathe.

9.  Think– of say– “Be still.”

10.  Breathe.

11.  Think– or say– “Be.”

12.  Breathe.

 

Exercise 43B

1.  Place your feet flat on the floor.

2.  Breathe.

3.  Think– or say– “Be still, and know that I am God.”

4.  Breathe.

(Repeat this process 3 times.)

5.  Think– or say– “Be still and know that I am.”

6.  Breathe.

(Repeat this process 3 times.)

7.  Think– or say– “Be still and know”

8.  Breathe.

(Repeat this process 3 times.)

9.  Think– of say– “Be still.”

10.  Breathe.

(Repeat this process 3 times.)

11.  Think– or say– “Be.”

(Repeat this process 3 times.)

12.  Take 3 cleansing Breaths.